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Leicester Stock Watch: Riyad Mahrez returns

An FA Cup win slightly soothed the sting of a brutal league loss.

Leicester City v Sheffield United - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

In the last league match Leicester City traveled to the Etihad and was eventually dismantled by Manchester City’s greatness. The scoreline of 5-1 was probably a fair one given the Citizens’ dominance throughout the match.

The FA Cup, meanwhile, offered a temporary reprieve as the Foxes took down Sheffield United 1-0, setting up a quarter-final showdown with Chelsea. For the most part, though, this wasn't enough to wipe away the stench of the club’s previous form:

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Riyad Mahrez: The only good thing about the Manchester City match was that it marked the return of Riyad. In his short time on the pitch he provided a bit of his signature creativity, but it wasn’t enough to make any sort of meaningful difference in the one-sided affair. His return to the cup, however, was a different story. Though the scoreline wasn’t reflective of any sort of dominance, Mahrez’s impact loomed large in the 1-0 win. He bossed the match with one assist, four key passes, eight accurate long balls, and nine successful dribbles. This is the sort of wizardry that is irreplaceable for the Foxes.

Leicester City v Sheffield United - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
Riyad Mahrez (right) back where he belongs: on the pitch embarrassing his inferiors.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jamie Vardy: Leicester’s leading man is on a tear. He has quietly scored in five straight matches for the Foxes to bring his season tally up to 15. Though his elite work rate never wavered, his goal-scoring form has taken his season to another level. If the Foxes are to fight for a Europa League spot - either through the Premier League table or the FA Cup - they will need Vardy to continue in this vein.

Demarai Gray: The promising young winger has been fairly quiet in recent weeks. At the start of Claude Puel’s tenure he was a regular in the first team and shined on several occasions. Since then, however, he has found his way back to the bench as Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton have cemented themselves as the first-choice wingers once again. In several substitute appearances since then, Gray has struggled to make the same kind of impact, but as a starter against Sheffield United he shined again. His explosiveness was on display as he repeatedly burst past defenders and drove City forward. He completed five successful dribbles and was chopped down by a defender on two other occasions. Hopefully this is the version of Gray that will appear when Mahrez inevitably moves on in the summer.

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Kasper Schmeichel: The Dane made an incredible save to maintain the lead in the cup match, but it wasn’t enough to make up for an abysmal showing against his former club Manchester City. Though the Citizens’ immense firepower was the primary reason the outcome was as one-sided as it was, Schmeichel made it a lot easier on them. They put five past him, a couple of which were within his reach. There was, of course, also the embarrassing howler of a giveaway that gifted a free goal to Sergio Aguero. When spectacular saves like the one against Sheffield United are the norm, performances like the one against Manchester City are well below what is expected or even what is accepted.

Ben Chilwell: Similar to Schmeichel, a solid cup performance was buried in the shadow of a disastrous league game. Chilwell was playing in a more advanced role thanks to some lineup experimentation by Puel. In his 60 minutes on the pitch he was a disaster. He was credited with three bad touches and a comically poor pass accuracy percentage of 40 percent. Some of his giveaways were just baffling to watch. This performance also came on the back of a few other poor performances that left our own Matt Cook wondering if there was a left-back conspiracy brewing in Leicester.

Claude Puel: City was reeling up until Sheffield United offered a lifeline. In the span of a few weeks it felt like the sky was falling as a supporter of the club thanks to the infamous Riyad Mahrez saga, the ugly loss to Everton, the disappointing draw with Swansea, and the thumping at the hands of the champions-in-waiting. Though it may be unfair to pin this all on Puel, he was unable to stop the bleeding and admitted fault in the loss to Manchester City. He undoubtedly got the tactics wrong, which is not something that that has been said often in his time in Leicester.